Turning Point – 1943

Normandy and Northwest Europe

D-Day - the 6th of June Landing

Rating, Beach Commando 'W', Royal Canadian Navy, 1944

Caption: Rating, Beach Commando 'W', Royal Canadian Navy, 1944

On 6 June, Canada - the only country to have kept an accurate count - was able to land some 12,000 men of its 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade, a considerably smaller number than forecast. This represented about 10 percent of the Allied landing at that time. The first Canadians to land in Normandy were members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. When the Normandy campaign ended on 21 August more than two million Allied soldiers were on French soil, some 100,000 - or 1 in 20 - of them Canadian.

Between 6 June and 21 August the Canadians would have 18,444 casualties including 5,021 dead - and they still had not reached Rouen. Although it had been relatively easy for the Canadians the first day, things grew complicated on 7 June. In mid-September it had to be acknowledged that of all the divisions in 21 Army Group the most casualties had been suffered by, respectively, the 3rd and 2nd Canadian Infantry divisions forming II Canadian Corps. The taking of Caen, the fighting on and around Verrières Ridge on 25 July 1944 - which became the Canadian army's second most costly day, after Dieppe, in the Second World War - and the closing of the Falaise Gap would unfortunately give the soldiers a chance to measure themselves against some of the best German troops on the western front. Young and inexperienced men would leave Normandy tempered by the fire of terrible ordeals, including two aerial bombardments by their air force comrades in arms. Major David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment earned a Victoria Cross at Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives, near Falaise.

As of 31 July 1944 the 1st Canadian Army, half made up of British and Polish troops, was operational. Under the command of General H.D.G. Crerar, it would be in charge, after Chambois, of the left flank of the Allied advance in France. Coming in to Rouen the Canadians would be blocked for 48 hours in and around the Londe forest and would sustain a further several hundred casualties after Paris had been liberated. Although many months of hard fighting still awaited them, the 100,000 Canadians then in France could claim a substantial part of the responsibility for 460,900 German casualties, notably as the hammer that crushed the Germans against the American anvil sitting a few kilometres south of Falaise. The other side of the coin was, as we have seen, that they figured prominently in Allied casualty lists, totalling 206,703.

Additional Images

Canadian anti-aircraft gun
Canadians, Juno Beach, June 1944
Sapper, Royal Canadian Engineers, Normandy, 22 June 1944
Major-General R.F.L. Keller (1900-1954)
Sherman V tank